Summary: Be faithful, stick to what’s been revealed to us in God’s Word and rely on God’s power to bring the growth.
There’s an old Indian Fable I heard recently. A water bearer had two large water pots which he carried on either end of a pole slung across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it, so every day as he carried water to his master’s house he arrived with one full pot and one only half full. This went on for two years. One pot was very proud of its accomplishments, while the imperfect pot was embarrassed at its failure. Its distress at being able only to accomplish half of what it had been made to do, resulted in its speaking one day to the water carrier.
"I am so ashamed," the pot said. "Why?" asked the carrier. "Because water leaks out all the way to your master’s house and because of my crack I’ve been only able to deliver half of the load." The water carrier looked kindly at the cracked pot and said, "As we return to my master’s house today, I want you to look at the beautiful flowers along the path."
The pot was a little cheered by the beauty he saw along the way. "Did you notice that the flowers were only on your side of the path?" the water carrier asked. "I’ve always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it. I planted seeds on your side of the track and as we walked back each day from the stream, you watered them." For two years I have been able to pick fresh, beautiful flowers for my master’s table. Without your being just the way you are, this beauty would not have graced his house."
If you were here two weeks ago you may remember that I suggested that there’s no such thing as a part time Christian in God’s kingdom. Each of us has a part to play, a role picked out for us by God himself. We may not be as gifted as some others. We may not be as theologically educated as some. We may not have the time or the money or the resources of some. We may even be a bit cracked in places. But what we found back in 3:6 was that while some of us plant while others water, it’s actually God who does the work of growing the seed. So the growth of his kingdom doesn’t depend only on the highly gifted or educated or resourceful. It depends on each of us doing our part, even if we’re like a leaky pot watering the plants be the side of the road.
So today, as we begin to look at this passage from 1 Cor 4, I want you to stop for a moment and think about what your particular area of Christian ministry might be.
It might be caring for others. It might be telling others about Jesus, or about this Church you belong to. It might be being in a Bible Study, encouraging others as they share their life with you. It might be offering your particular viewpoint or your particular understanding of the issues we face as Christians. It might be being a parent raising young children or a son or daughter caring for aging parents. It might be being a friend to someone. It might be serving on Vestry, or one of our various organising committees.
It may even be that you have a number of areas of Christian ministry. God gives us a variety of gifts and with them the responsibility to use those gifts. So you might be able to think of lots of ways you serve God. In fact, you may not want to know this, but the more gifted you are the more God expects of you.
[Now I’d like you turn to the person next to you, or in front, or behind, and ask them what their areas of ministry are.]
Now let me ask you, having thought about what your area of ministry is, what do you think God requires of you?
Here’s where we come to today’s passage. Look at 4:2. What does God require of those to whom he’s entrusted his various gifts? That they be trustworthy. So, what does that mean?
Well, that they use their gifts well. Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the servants who were each given various amounts of money to use for their master? (The parable of the talents.) Which of the servants was commended? The ones who used their money well. And it was the servant who took the money and buried it in the ground who was chastised for being untrustworthy. So I take it that to be trustworthy, first of all implies using our gifts as well as we can.
But there’s actually more in this passage than just that. Look at v1. He says we’re stewards of God’s mysteries. That is, the service we exercise involves not just caring for people on a human level but it also involves taking care of a precious treasure that’s been revealed to us by God: the treasure of the gospel; the message that God has involved himself in human affairs in a new and radical way: by himself taking on human form in the person of his only Son, Jesus Christ; by dying on a cross; by coming back to life on the third day so he could give us that same life that he now has. And that message of the gospel is a mystery that he’s now revealed through the preaching of the apostles. And in turn we too have been entrusted with it.